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Sunday, June 29, 2014

FALLING SKIES a "Machine"

Article originally written for Seat42F.
 

One thing I’ve noticed about FALLING SKIES is that it has never quite figured out what it is. Every time it seems to settle into some sort of routine, the writers make sure to knock the characters out of their situation, sending them somewhere entirely new. This does keep the show interesting, even if it seems to lack depth. I do wish the pacing would slow down a bit and explore each scenario a little more before moving onto the next one, but for now, that doesn’t seem likely, so just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

As season four starts this week with “Ghost in the Machine,” it all changes again. Our band of heroes is walking along, enjoying a rare, happy day in the sun as they approach Charleston, until they are suddenly attacked. The group is fragmented and sent in various directions, and as the action picks up months later, many have settled into a ‘new normal’ that they have no wish to perpetuate.

So it seems this season, more than the others, won’t be about bringing down the aliens. The characters will be fighting the invaders, yes, but with short-term goals of finding missing loved ones and achieving freedom from captivity, not the long-term mission of taking back the planet. This changes the scope, even while trying to elicit more emotional responses from the viewers tuned in. Will FALLING SKIES take full advantage of this, or gloss over it as it has done other set ups?

In the current season, there are definitely some new and interesting developments involving the conquerors. For one, we finally know what they are doing with the children. Matt (Maxim Knight) is placed in a re-education school where kids are being brainwashed to fit into a new world run by those who are not native to Earth. Apparently, this has worked in other places, and it is the next phase of the invasion, which makes sense, because perpetual war or outright extinction don’t seem like outcomes that gel with what we’ve seen before.

Of course, not all of the youngsters fall in line. Matt is smart enough to realize that he should at least pretend to, biding his time until he has the opportunity to stage a coup. It’s the boy’s first major arc that he’s central to, and Knight seems to be doing a pretty good when faced with this challenge. Matt is likely to cause as much trouble as his father ever has, learning from the best.

Speaking of Tom (Noah Wyle), he has become the Batman of the slums, sneaking around in a mask, spying on their captors, and doling out vigilante justice when needed against low-lifes like Pope (Colin Cunningham). I feel like this is a natural next step for the character of Tom, but also feels almost as ridiculous as some of the other leaps he makes. Tom is best when he is being a father or a negotiator or a professor, and whenever he takes on the super leader persona, it always feels just a bit false.

I think Tom seems even more out of place when put in a cell next to Weaver (Will Patton). Weaver is distraught that his daughter has been taken, understandably so, but goes a little bit too far off the rails when dealing with it, to the point of almost committing suicide-by-cop. While Weaver has been pathetic in the past, that is when his character seems least authentic, and by putting an uneven Weaver and Tom side by side, “Ghost in the Machine” highlights something FALLING SKIES has never gotten quite right.

Anne (Moon Bloodgood) has a cool arc, though. Off in the woods with Anthony (Mpho Koaho) and some other soldiers, she is staging a military operation to rescue her family. This is a tougher side of Anne, stepping up to be a leader in a desperate situation, and it’s welcome. As a mother, she has a reason to turn hard, tasked with protecting those she is responsible for. This other side of her isn’t nearly as false as the men’s.

I also believe the reverted Pope. He’s not fully back to his old ways. He may be acting selfish again, but other than hoarding some supplies, he’s not actively trying to hurt anyone. I think he just doesn’t want to risk showing he cares, having been burnt before, as he’s locked up now. He thinks if he acts the old way, he’ll be left alone or get back to surviving as he did previously. But in the manner Pope refuses to beat on Hal (Drew Roy) too much, we see that it will just take some motivating factor to bring back the mostly redeemed Pope viewers love.

Finally, in the strangest twist in the premiere, Ben (Connor Jessup) wakes up after months of sleep to a tranquil garden staffed with body-snatcher-esque versions of Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) and Maggie (Sarah Carter), seemingly run by a grown up version of his sister, Lexi (Scarlett Byrne, Harry Potter). I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s weird and definitely not what it appears to be. Which just makes it all the more intriguing. Given what we know and don’t know about Lexi, it could very well be real, but as for what it means, that’s up for debate.

All in all, while I’m sad FALLING SKIES just jumps into yet another something new, barely checking in with the most recent abandoned (for now) plot involving Cochise (Doug Jones), it’s still a pretty cool season opener, with a lot to tantalize, and some fresh settings and new aliens to keep audiences engaged. It may move a bit too fast, but I guess that’s better than getting bogged down in slowness, and during the summer, when people want explosions and special effects, this program serves that purpose well enough.

FALLING SKIES airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.

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